Te Mata Peak is a must if you are in the Hawkes Bay region. Which I was so I headed there. Steeped in history, culture and spectacular views it is definitely something to put on your To-Do List.
There are 5 walking tracks in Te Mata Park. We did the Giant Circut
Time 2 hours
Access Te Mata Peak lives in Havelock North in the Hawkes Bay. It is well signposted from the town. Follow the signs up the hill until you reach the Park and you will find yourself in the Main Gates Car Park.
Difficulty The track is well defined throughout the park. Each walk has its own colour coded triangle. So long as you follow the correct colour, you can’t go wrong.
Fitness There are a few steep climbs so you need to be relatively fit. However, they aren’t long climbs so as long as you stick to a pace you are comfortable with you should be right as rain.
The History of Te Mata Peak
Te Mata park has a rich human history spanning several centuries. In particular, the upper parts of the park have a strong cultural importance to Maori. Evidence of pa sites (Maori settlements) can be seen. Moa bones (an extinct large New Zealand bird) have been found in the slopes which suggest Maori settlement.
In 1862, an early settler John Chambers purchased the land for farming. In 1927, as a memorial to their father, John Chambers, his sons Bernard, John and Mason gifted a 242 acre (99 hectare) reserve on the upper Havelock North hills, including Te Mata Peak, to the people of Hawke’s Bay.
A charitable trust was set up and Te Mata Peak was to be kept as a recreational reserve.
The Legend of Te Mata Peak
The following is taken from the official Te Mata Park website. You can find it here.
The well-recited legend of Te Mata Peak protrays the hill as the prostrate body of the Waimarama chief Te Mata.
Many centuries ago the people living in pa (fortified villages) on the Heretaunga Plains were under constant threat of war from the coastal tribes of Waimarama. At a gathering at Pakipaki (5km south of Hastings) to discuss the problem, the solution came when a kuia (wise old woman) sought permission to speak in the marae: “He ai na te wahine, ka horahia te po,” she said. (The ways of a woman can sometimes overcome the effects of darkness).
Hinerakau, the beautiful daughter of a Pakipaki chief, was to be the focal point of a plan. She would get the leader of the Waimarama tribes, a giant named Te Mata, to fall in love with her, turning his thoughts from war to peace. The plan succeeded but she too fell in love.
The people of Heretaunga, however, had not forgotten the past and with revenge, the motive demanded that Hinerakau make Te Mata prove his devotion by performing seemingly impossible tasks. The last task was to bite his way through the hills between the coast and the plains so that people could come and go with greater ease.
Te Mata died proving his love when he choked on the earth of Te Mata Peak and today his half-accomplished work can be seen in the hills in what is known as The Gap or Pari Karangaranga (echoing cliffs). His prostrate body forms Te Mata Peak.
At sunset, one can often see in the mists which stretch from the crown of Kahurānaki, the beautiful blue cloak with which the grieving Hinerakau covered the body of her husband before leaping to her own death from the precipice on the Waimarama side of the Peak. The gully at the base of the cliff was formed when her body struck the earth.
Looking towards the Peak from Hastings, the huge bite that choked Te Mata can be seen. The outline of his body forms the skyline, with his head to the south and his feet to the north. European settlers also thought the hills resembled a man lying down and called him the “Sleeping Giant”.
Walking the Giant Circuit
We decided to walk the Giant Circuit as it skirts around the outside of the park. However, I would like to go back and complete the other walks as well, in particular, the Rongokako Trail as this track is a more challenging track that follows the ridgeline to Te Mata Peak.
The Giant Circuit can be walked in either direction. We chose counter-clockwise and headed down into the bush. The track is fairly well-maintained and the consistent red triangles made it easy to find which way to go when we came to a crossroads.
A couple of times the track is shared with the mountain bike tracks so just be aware that there may be bikers flying down the hill.
The Big Redwoods
The track dips and rolls until it levels out at the redwoods. The massively imposing trees stand towering above everyone. They dwarf you and make you feel small and slightly insignificant.
Fun Fact: The Big Redwoods is one of the most popular spots in the park and has been witness to weddings, concerts and even Shakespearean plays.
Snakes and Ladders
Once you pass the Big Redwoods the track skirts alongside the boundary before heading up the summit. It is a bit of a climb here as you zig-zag up the hill. The path scars the landscape as you look down on where you have come. This is a popular track so you can often see others making their way to the summit as well.
As you hike up this section, also known as Snakes and Ladders, watch out of fossilised seashells. I was surprised to see them so high up. It is mindboggling to think that this section of land was once submerged beneath the sea. But the proof is in the pudding. Or the fossilised seashells.
Te Mata Peak
Once you reach the summit, be prepared to share the view with many others. You can get to the summit via car and less enthusiastic walkers will take this route to bask in the beauty of the views offered.
There are many Instagramable spots up at the peak, from the various rocks with spectacular backgrounds to the viewpoint of the sea in the distance. Plus, you have the added challenge of trying to take a photo without strangers photobombing your picture.
Take in the 360-degree views of the sea, land and cityscape. It really is breathtaking. Te Mata Peak would be a great spot for fish and chips at sunset, watching the mist settle and the sun go to sleep wrapped in a blanket. Next time I am in the Hawkes Bay I may have to test this theory.
As you head back down the hill to the carpark, keep an ear and an eye out for the locals. We saw Tui and Kereru (New Zealand woodpigeon). We heard the Kereru often before we saw them, crashing through the bush. My spirit bird well and truly.
Te Mata Peak is a wonderful spot. I love the history and culture of the area as well as the natural beauty. The park is versatile in the number of tracks and varied difficulty. All ages and abilities can (and should) enjoy the area.
Experience a unique cultural heritage spot right on our own backyard.
You can find out more information on the Top 5 Walking Tracks in Te Mata Park on the official website.
For more Te Mata Peak pictures, check out that Kiwi Hiker’s Facebook Album.
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